Not including the LFA supercar, Lexus’ track record with coupes is limited to two distinct generations of the Lexus SC. The original SC was essentially a luxury version of the Toyota Supra, while the second-gen was a much softer car and found a primary following among elderly drivers. With the introduction of the 2015 RC, Lexus hopes this car will top its previous two attempts at the luxury coupe market with a new model it promises to be a “sledgehammer to the senses.”
Lexus not only wanted to produce a sporty coupe to compete with the BMW 4 Series, Cadillac ATS Coupe, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe, but the RC F also helps the automaker battle it out with what it calls “brand amplifiers” like BMW M4, Mercedes C63 AMG and the Audi RS 5. With this kind of competition, we wanted to see if Lexus brought a sledgehammer to a knife fight, so to find out for ourselves, we headed to New York to drive the all-new RC lineup combining a good amount of road driving with about a half day of track driving at the private Monticello Motor Club.
From the first time the RC broke cover, the styling has been polarizing to say the least, but in person, the lines and proportions of this coupe are remarkable. Since the launch of the Lexus GS two years ago, each successive Lexus design has gotten more daring breaking away from the more toned down vehicle designs that we had become accustomed to in the past, and this trend goes to its deepest extreme with the RC’s styling.
There are significant differences between the three RC variants (RC 350, RC 350 F Sport and RC F), but for the most part, the distinguishing elements include the wheels and fascias.
The base RC 350 has the most reserved styling of the trio, although its spindle grille and Barbara Streisand nose give it an imposing presence.
The rear of the RC reveal stylish Z-shaped taillights, but it also shows some of the tackier design cues built into this car. On the RC 350, the black, plastic strakes take away from the otherwise functional appearance, while Lexus is still sticking with the love-it-or-hate-it stacked, quadruple exhaust outlets for the rear of the RC F (although in its defense, it does look better overall than the IS F).
As for the rest of the RC F’s styling, key changes were made to improve the car’s performance on the track. For instance, the massive front fascia vents provide additional air flow to oil and transmission coolers, while the automatically retracting rear spoiler adds downforce for better stability, but Lexus is not disclosing what type of downforce improvement is made. The vented hood and fenders act as heat extractors to help keep the high-powered engine running at optimal temps.
While the exterior styling takes the Lexus design language to a different level, the interior design is exactly what we’ve come to expect on recent vehicles including the 2014 Lexus IS and 2015 Lexus NX. Everything in front of the seats seems almost directly plucked from the stylish IS, and the biggest difference across the RC, RC F Sport and RC F are the seats. All three cars provide great bolstering, but while the standard RC comes with Lexus’ NuLuxe seating upholstery, the RC F Sport adds thicker bolsters with perforated leather. The RC F gets high-back racing seats, which were amazingly comfortable on the road and supportive on the track.
Even with a helmet on, there was plenty of room for front occupants, but it has a small rear seat and cargo space, which are to be expected on coupes in this segment, though. The base RC 350 means there is plenty of genuine wood and aluminum trim available, while the F Sport and RC F bring lots of carbon fiber. Techies will love both of these models as they feature the standard LFA-inspired reconfigurable gauge cluster, but all cars with navigation get the new Lexus Remote Touchpad, which is easier and far more intuitive to use the previous mouse-like controller.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment overall for the car (besides the lack of a manual transmission) is that it uses a foot-operated parking brake rather than one that is hand-operated or, like most luxury cars today, electric.
In base form, the 2015 Lexus RC uses a 3.5-liter V-6 producing 306 horsepower and 277 lb-ft (375.5 Nm) of torque, which can be offered as either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The standard rear-drive model is equipped with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and it is the perfect balance of performance and fuel economy with EPA-rated numbers expected to be close to 19 mpg (12/4 l/100km) city and 28 mpg (8.4 l/100 km) city with a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds with a top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h). Adding the extra 150 pounds (68 kg) for the AWD system will improve all-weather traction, but it cuts fuel economy by 2 mpg on the highway and knocks two-tenths of a second off the 0-60 time.
The blistering 2015 Lexus RC F is powered by an updated version of the 5.0-liter V8 used in the last-gen IS F. Power over that engine is up considerably to 467 hp and 389 lb-ft (527.5 Nm) of torque – compared to 416 hp and 371 lb-ft (503 Nm). This impressive output gives the RC F a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds to go along with a top speed of 170 mph (274 km/h) and a quarter mile time of 12.5 seconds.
Not that fuel economy is a factor in performance coupes, but the good news is that the RC F’s 16 mpg (14.7 l/100 km) city and 25 mpg (9.4 l/100 km) highway fuel economy ratings will be good enough to skirt a gas-guzzler tax. This engine is paired solely to an 8-speed automatic, an upgraded version of the old IS F auto. , For a car aimed at taking on some proven sports coupes, the lack of a manual transmission (on any 2015 Lexus RC model) is painfully obvious.
On the road, the RC 350 is obviously the more refined of the two, but even on a normally boring stretch of interstate, the RC F doesn’t get too raucous or uncomfortable. The hard part is not speeding, which is surprisingly easy in both models, but that’s where the adaptive cruise control comes in handy. The ride quality has been fine tuned for this car by using a dedicated platform.
Forget about the idea that the RC is simply a chopped down version of the 2014 IS sedan, the RC combines elements of three different Lexus models: the front end of the GS sedan, the center section of the IS C and the rear components of the 2014 IS. The result is a car that isn’t too harsh in daily driving but still provides plenty of fun on the track.
We learned about the RC’s track qualities firsthand at the Monticello Motor Club, which is no beginner’s course.
The first thing you notice about this car on the track is how firm it plants itself in the corners.
This is the result of its wide front track (almost two inches wider than IS) combined with its rigid chassis. Lexus says that the RC 350 is 30 percent more rigid than the sporty GS sedan and it tightens things up even more on the RC F with the addition of an engine brace and a rear partition brace.
During our track time, we were able to test out the RC 350 F Sport with optional rear wheel steering, the standard RC F and the RC F with the optional Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD). In its base form, the RC F Sport is already a nimble track car with the upgraded Drive Mode Select system and the beefed-up brakes with two-piece front rotors, but this car is downright amazing with the $1,900 Lexus Dynamic Handling package, which is just a fancy way of saying rear-wheel steering. Now, rear steering is obviously nothing new, but its effects are amplified on the track and make the RC 350 F Sport take corners like it’s on rails – S curves are by far the best!
Moving up to the RC F, the extra engine and braking power are instantly obvious around the track. Better yet, all of the electronic systems in place to keep you safe on the street also give you plenty of play on the track. It’s pretty easy to get a little sideways around corners even with traction control on, but even when the nannies come to crash the party, it doesn’t completely kill the fun.
In base form, the RC 350 weighs in at 3,758 pounds (1,704 kg), but the RC F tips the scales at a portly 3,958 pounds (1,785 kg). This is almost 400 pounds (180 kg) more than a BMW M4, but it’s also about 50 pounds (23 kg) lighter than the aging Audi RS 5.
If you’re going to buy an RC F to take to the track, then you will definitely want to replace the standard Torsen rear differential with the trick new Torque Vectoring Differential (TVD) that uses a pair of electric motors for splitting torque across the rear axle. Price alone will probably limit this option to serious enthusiasts as TVD is part of the $5,500 Performance Package, which requires buyers to first to opt for the $4,400 Premium Package.
When it comes to the Torque Vectoring Diff, not only is the price rather high for an option not very helpful in non-track driving, but the effects are best felt while shaving time off lap speeds.
While the TVD is readily apparent to the driver, we found that after driving a standard RC F back-to-back with a TVD-equipped RC F, lap times were noticeably faster on the latter.
In terms of overall pricing, Lexus has taken an interesting path to compete with its German rivals. For starters, the 2015 Lexus RC 350 is priced at the higher point of this niche segment with a base price of $$42,790. This almost $3,000 higher than the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series, and it is about $3,400 more than the super-aging Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe. All-wheel drive will set you back another $2,235, and the F Sport package starts at $3,580. On the other end, the 2015 Lexus RC F starts at $62,400, which undercuts the C63 AMG Coupe by $1,200, the M4 by $1,800 and the RS5 by a whopping $8,500.
Lexus hopes to sell 15,000 RC 350 coupes each year with close to half that being optioned up with F Sport trim, while the RC F is expected to move around 2,500 units per year. Production of the 2015 Lexus RC begins this month, and dealers can expect to start seeing the coupes in October.
In Europe, the British market is the only one to have had the pricing announced so far and this is only of the RC F. The hot coupe begins at GBP 59,995, while there’s a more gifted version called RC F Carbon, which has a starting price of GBP 67,995. The latter brings extra standard stuff such as the Torque Vectoring Diff we were talking about, carbon roof, hood and rear spoiler, 19-inch forged wheels, while its cabin treats one with Alcantara seats and a Mark Levinson audio system.
Looking ahead, Lexus still isn’t saying if any of the RC F’s performance upgrades will be applied to a next-gen IS F, but the RC F will definitely play a key role in Toyota’s motorsports effort as it will be the GT 500 entrant in Japan’s Super GT series as well as a new GT3 model that will bring this car to racing series around the globe.
After spending a day with the RC 350 and the RC F both on the street and on the track, it’s easy to see that Lexus has definitely hit the nail on the head with its sledgehammer of a sports coupe. Not only will the RC put some real heat on the luxury coupe competition, but it also shows that the sporty nature exhibited by cars like the LFA, 2013 GS and 2014 IS are here to stay.